Walking the Barri Gotic area of Barcelona is a fascinating experience, tiny streets, unexpected squares and buildings still there from the Middle Ages. Inside the old walled city of Barcelona even some Roman remains can be found. You can do it on your own or use the Tourist Info Office walk for a guided tour.
Best to begin on Plaza Catalunya, or see travel directions below. Walk down Av. Portal de l'Angel to Plaza Nova where you see two sections of the original Roman walls and a couple of square towers from the 4th C. Then on to the Cathedral, in the Plaça de la Seu. The facade is currently undergoing restoration. The large square in front of the Cathedral was the former Roman forum of Barcelona.
Important - do not mistake the Sagrada Familia for the Cathedral. Many visitors do and the local people find that a serious error. Any given city can have one Cathedral only - the Bishop's seat - that is the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia in Barcelona.
Then around to the Cloisters, built between 1350 and 1448, to see the garden, including the fountain in the atrium. The cloister has white geese which may be visited. Enjoyed that :)
See also the Catalan Government building and City Hall on the Plaza de la Generalitat.
Then around the corner and down a small street (Pletat) to the Temple d'August, with it's 4 remaining columns from the Roman era. This building now houses the Catalan Hiker's association. If you speak Spanish or Catalan, there is some good information available here for good walkers.
Among other places, do stop in at the Capella de Santa Agata (Saint Agata Church), from the early 14th C, to see the Alterpiece.
Barri Gotic is Barcelona's oldest neighborhood. It's charmingly medieval in its look and layout. The narrow streets are filled with darkness and cavern-like wine bars, and it's easy to get lost here (as I did many times). The major thoroughfares are overcome with shops and tourists, so much that it can be difficult to walk, but there are plenty of smaller side streets where you won't encounter a lot of people. A highlight of the neighborhood is the Barri Gotic Cathedral and the area around it. If you're tired of Gaudi and Modernisme, Barri Gotic is the place to come.
The Gothic Quarter is the historical centre and the oldest part of the ciy of Barcelona and until nowadays it is the centre of the political and institutional representation. Some of the most interesting places of this neighbourhood of Barcelona are the Cathedral, the Church of Santa Maria del Pi and the squares (the Plaza del Rei, the plaza Real,the plaza del Pi y La Plaza Sant Jaume with the City hall of Barcelona and the Government of Catalunya). The Gothic Quarter is going down from Plaça Catalunya to the famous Ramblas, the famous 2 km boulevard ending at the harbour of Barcelona. The Gothic Quertar can be distinguished by its narrow streets and squares full of stores, street-cafés, terraces, bars and restaurants.
I took the Carrer del Bisbe from Plaça Nova and I admired the picturesque balcony(pic 1) before approaching Plaça de Sant Jaume which was the site of the Forum when the city was still called Barcino. A place for politicians now and then you can see that the square houses two political powerhouses:
a)the City Hall(pic 2) that was built in the 14th century and has a neoclassical façade. It opened 10.00-13.30 on sundays and there is a tourist office on the ground floor.
Check the sculpture at the entrance “Three Little Gypsies” made by Juan Rembul. It is a copy of the original made in 1946. The two statues at the entrance are King Jaume I (founder of the Council of the One Hundred which used to meet in the Great Hall at city’s first form of government) and Joan Fiveller(member of the council that put taxes at the members of the court).
b)the Palau de la Generalitat(pic 3), which is the seat of the Catalan government which has a nice gothic staircase.
The Raval is a lively part of the Old Quarter that was originally very much a working class area that has since morphed into a gentrified slum in parts, and just a slum in other areas. It lies to the west of the Rambles, and hosts the MACBA and the CCCB, so many tourists venture into the area. It also has quite a few good restaurants and hip, anarchist-chic type bars, which add to the crowds at night. The thing is that large swathes of the area retain their working class aura thanks to mass immigration, and the parts of the Raval that are closest to the Plaça Universitat are largely Filipino, which those closer to Sant Antoni are majority Pakistani with a large Arab and Berber minority. The farther from the Rambles you go, the more immigrant the area becomes. That's not a bad thing, and you can get great, cheap food in the Raval, sometimes in unique restaurants and locales. You'll also find some great bookstores and a few good cafés, like the chain Bones Migues, on Elisabets, which serves great quiche and, if you're there in the winter, mulled wine. Stop into the Fleca dels Àngels as well, at Carrer d'Elisabets and Carrer dels Àngels, for great baked goods. There are areas to be careful of, however, such as some of the areas east of the Rambla del Raval and south of Carrer de l'Hospital, where prostitution is a thriving industry.
The Portal de l’Àngel is one of my favourite parts of the city, and well it should be: by 2005, rents here had climbed to as much as 180 euro a square metre, making it the second most expensive street in all of Spain. Obviously, prices have come down since the crash in 2008. Nevertheless, this is a chic shopping street in the Barri Gòtic that preserve much of its old-world feeling, despite the plethora of department, shoe and jewellery stores that line the sides of the street. There is also no shortage of culture, but formal and informal: in addition to a small Dali museum/shop here, you can also enjoy a number of buskers and street performers who set up shop on the sides of the street and in the middle. Things can get pretty busy around the Corte Inglés store at the top of the Portal, which is the widest area along the street, and which is where most performers set up shop. There is also a small crafts market here most weekends (and during the week too in the summer).
Close to the Ramblas is the old Gothic Quarter. It is comprised of narrow lanes with high medieval mansions that are quite worth a see. But the lanes are very confusing and it is easy to get lost there. Some of the mansions are really beautiful. Some small souvenir stalls are also there in the quarter.
Built in the middle of the 15th century as the residence of the viceroy (lloctinent), the Palau de Lloctinent mixes Gothic and Renaissance architecture. The interior courtyard is more typically Renaissance with arched porticoes and vaulted ceilings, while the exterior contains Gothic touches including gargoyles. The palace once served as the Arxiu de la Corona d'Aragó (archives of the Crown of Aragon). The palace is located between Plaça del Rei and the Cathedral of Barcelona, and although closed to the public, the palace's gate was wide open and allowed for a photo opportunity.
One of the prime examples of how Barcelona harmoniously blends old and new, the Casa de l'Ardiaca combines Roman, mediaeval and modern construction. The original edifice was built in the 12th century over the Roman wall as the Archdeacon's house and was modified again in the 15th century. A modern addition, housing the national archives, was added in the 20th century. Casa de l'Ardiaca is located next to the Barcelona Cathedral in Barri Gòtic.
Secretly hidden within mediaeval buildings in Barri Gòtic are the astonishing ruins of the Roman Temple of Augustus. Four upright majestic Corinthian columns and the connecting architrave miraculously survived 2000 years within old buildings that were constructed over time. In the last century, they were exposed and made open to the public as seen today in celebration of the Roman heritage of Barcelona. One of the columns was actually moved to this site from another location, but the other three are in their original placement. The sight of the columns is incredible as one meanders through the alleys and enters what is seemingly another Gothic building from the outside, only to be faced with the towering ancient columns. This is one of my favourite spots in Barcelona.
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